Random Thoughts about Evaluation

Article excerpt

We promise excellence so we must provide excellence

In the past many years, the United States education agenda has included serious conversations about evaluation- especially "high stakes" testing at the state and national level. Where are Catholic educators in these conversations and what guides our thinking about these issues? And how might all those who teach either in schools, seminaries or religious education programs consider the importance of evaluation of any sort?

First and foremost, all Catholic educational programs must live up to what they promise. Truth in advertising, so to speak. We promise excellence; we must provide excellence. We must be able to demonstrate that we are, in fact, excellent. There is no disagreement about that.

The NCEA policy about accountability and assessment further states in the following summarized form:

We hold a sacred trust to educate and form the whole personmind, body and spirit. Accountability is essential to that sacred trust. Assessment in all forms is a means of knowing the whole person. Justice demands that we do so (NCEA, 4/14/04).

And the "National Standards and Benchmarks for Effective Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools" make this wise recommendation:

An excellent Catholic school uses school-wide assessment methods and practices to document student learning and program effectiveness, to make student performance transparent, and to inform the continuous review of curriculum and the improvements of instructional practices (Standard B).

The challenge is to find the most fitting way to measure or test what we want to know and then to use the testing/evaluation appropriately and effectively. The most common tests are those that are normed or standardized. These kinds of tests are very rational, attempting to be as objective as humans can be. The tests look at facts and performance and, as we all know, should fit what is being taught at the time it is being taught. Most of these evaluative methods ask us to look at students with the mind's eye. Good. We also need to see our students with the eye of the heart, which sees things whole. We see our students as whole people- a test score does not define a person.

Catholic educators and catechists should use testing programs in a way that is respectful of students and their parents. …